La Paz and its Pelicans: A Lesson in Patience

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By Mary Anne Harmer

It was a beautiful day in La Paz. I walked along the beach as the fishermen arrived with their daily catch.  Standing sentinel were a group of pelicans still and patient. Quietly they waited for the fishermen to toss the fish remains overboard from a successful day in the Sea of Cortez.  

Waiting, waiting, waiting they stood poised to dive in for the rewards of their diligence. Then a splash and suddenly an orchestra of wings, beaks, squawks–a flurry of activity that prompted the fishermen to laugh.

Yes, patience pays off.  The pelicans know this. Nature knows this.  Yet here we are, the world’s supreme species, and we struggle with such a simple concept.

And there are other animals that demonstrate patience …  According to Nature World the following mammals are the most patient.  (note humans are not on the list)

  • Armadillos.
  • Bats.
  • Bears.
  • Beavers.
  • Camels.
  • Cats.
  • Cattle.
  • Cheetahs.

Cows can chew their cuds very patiently. Kangaroos can wait patiently for long stretches of time when they give birth to tiny offspring that must crawl up their mothers’ bellies and into their pouches, where they typically remain for about 435 days.

So, unlike our friends the pelicans and other animals, people are often culturally conditioned for immediate gratification.   And…that just doesn’t work in La Paz!

Visitors and residents to our lovely city of Peace, need to let go of expectations around immediacy and promptness and embrace the value of patience, be it at the bank, a Mexican office, with contractors, or even friends invited to a gathering. The American culture has been structured around instant gratification, from fast food to fast internet speeds to fast shipping, so waiting seems even more unpleasant.

And I’ll be the first to admit, that I am one of the worst when it comes to being patient at home and at work. Seems many of us are hardwired from youth to be productive, to set goals and move towards action. Like many type “A” folks, I find myself getting frustrated when change, decisions, activity doesn’t happen quickly enough. I demand immediacy, rather than celebrating patience.

In a blog from Mercury magazine a few years back, “In a world where we can access information and order what we want within a few seconds, patience can be hard to come by. We want what we want, and we want it now! We’ve been taught that things can come really fast, and in many cases we are used to getting what we want within the same day.¨

Patience and dogged persistence, which is evident in the animal world may be the blueprint of success.  Take these examples:

  • Arianna Huffington got rejected by 36 publishers before starting Huffington Post.
  • Bill Gates saw his first company crumble.
  • Walt Disney was told he lacked creativity.
  • Harry Potter was rejected by 9 publishers before being accepted on JK Rowling’s journey from welfare to billionaire.
  • Star Wars was rejected by multiple studios

So, here’s an idea. Today, let us as individuals living the beautiful life in La Paz, celebrate the virtue of patience. Let’s slow down and feel comfortable with waiting — just like the pelicans.

To that endeavor, here are 4 things I’m doing to nurture my patience. See if they work for you.

 1. Walk and talk slower.  My high energy persona propels me to do everything fast. So I’m going to try to just physically slow my pace.

2. Set my larger goals not within a tightly defined time-frame but consider them as a process over time — as a direction I am steadily moving toward.

3. Appreciate downtime. This is thinking, creative and regeneration time …even when waiting at the bank!

4. Understand the ebbs and flows that go along with the reality of living in a foreign country.  Working constantly in high energy mode planning things to do all the time,  may impede the experience of mindfulness and living in the moment. And don’t fill guilty if you take a day off to chill. (I have to work on this one!)

5. Relax and take a few deep breaths.  This is a traditional stress management technique that can also be used when you find yourself becoming impatient.

Patience is a virtue. So, the next time you see a pelican chilling along the Malecon, soaring at Tecolate or at the beaches of Todos Santos, think about the lesson they teach us.

And while we are talking about pelicans… here are some fun facts about this common Baja Bird:

THE PELICAN FAMILY IS AT LEAST 30 MILLION YEARS OLD. The earliest fossil record was found in France.

THEY DON’T STORE FOOD IN THE POUCH ON THEIR BILLS.  Rather the bill is used to catch food and then is swallowed.

MOST PELICANS DON’T DIVE BOMB THEIR PREY.  They scoop it up while treading along on the water’s surface. 

PELICANS DON’T JUST EAT FISH.    They also eat crustaceans, amphibians, turtles, and—yes—other birds. If it can fit down their throats, it’s fair game.

PELICANS HAVE GREAT VISION.  They can spot a fish from 60 feet above.

BROWN PELICANS HAVE MADE A REMARKABLE COMEBACK OVER THE PAST 50 YEARS.  Once endangered, after the ban of DDT they have come back and are no longer on the list.

Mary Anne brings passion and energy towards improving the physical, emotional and spiritual health of ALL individuals, families and communities across the spectrum of economics and cultures.  She is the co-author of the book, 25 Building Blocks to Create a Conscientious Organization and the recently released book Putting Soul Into Business: How the Benefit Corporation is Transforming American Business.  She lives part-time in La Paz.

Photos taken by Burke Walsh, Nature Photographer and local resident of La Paz.